Barry “Butch” Wilmore

Preparing for Take-Off

UT Alum Wilmore Prepares for Unique NASA Test Flight

By Rhiannon Potkey.

NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore is a veteran of two spaceflights and has accumulated 178 days in space. The U.S. Navy Captain has logged more than 8,000 flight hours in tactical jet aircrafts and made 663 carrier landings.

His latest mission is unlike anything he’s ever done before.

Wilmore, 61, will be the commander for NASA’s Boeing Crew flight test to the International Space Station. It will be the first crewed flight of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft, which will transport Wilmore and pilot Suni Williams to the orbiting laboratory for a planned stay of up to two weeks. The launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida is currently scheduled for early June.

“This is a test, and that’s what makes it thrilling and also way different,” said Wilmore, who received a master’s degree in aviation systems from UT’s Space Institute in 1994. “The first flight, when you’re really testing and checking out the capabilities for the first time only, comes around every so often. Everything we’re going to do is a first and everything we are going to do is going to be evaluated.”

The Starliner spacecraft will remain at the station for a minimum of eight days and feature a wide range of engineering tests and evaluations. The purpose of the mission is to test the spacecraft and get it ready for future crews and improve its capabilities.

Wilmore, who served as a pilot on shuttle Atlantis’ STS-129 mission in 2009 and commanded Expedition 42 during a six-month increment in 2014-15, is preparing differently than he has for previous flights since there isn’t an established process in place.

“There is no training plan. This is the first, so we are developing a training plan,” Wilmore said. “We are evaluating the system. This is an experimental developmental flight test and we’ve been involved in every single process from the beginning.”

Wilmore was selected to be a part of the crew because of his background. In the Navy, the Mt. Juliet, Tennessee native flew missions in support of Operation Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and Southern Watch.

“I’m a Navy-trained test pilot and there’s not a lot of the test-trained folks in the astronaut’s corps,” he said. “But it’s also the good Lord’s timing that I was in the position to be put into this role.”

No matter how many times he takes flight, Wilmore still feels the thrill and nervous energy once launch day arrives.

“It’s wonderful every single time I do it,” he said. “The good Lord gives us the opportunity to get up and I don’t take it for granted, and certainly not the chance to fly in space or even breathe or see the beautiful sky during the day like I do right now. You take it all in and appreciate it.”

Willmore sported an orange Tennessee College of Engineering sweatshirt with a football floating by his side for a photo when he commanded Expedition 42. Does he have anything UT-related planned for the Starliner trip?

“I am a Tennessean at heart,” he said. “That’s home, and you might see a Tennessee item or two while I’m up there.”

Update from the ISS

The Boeing Crew Flight Test lifted off from Cape Canaveral on June 6. Check out the video below of the Expedition 71 crew greeting Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams as they arrive on the International Space Station.

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